I’m following the story of multiplying movements in the prisons of Rio de Janeiro as told by Andrew Johnson.
We’ve seen how prison Pentecostalism provides broken men with dignity and the hope of a new life in community.
Johnson went behind bars and witnessed how Rio’s most stigmatized residents, had built a church where they experienced joy, brotherhood, and dignity in one of the city’s most apparently god-forsaken places.
How do these prison churches survive and function?
The prison churches were independent, self-sustaining organizations. They set the membership bar high. Members are easy to identify, they dress differently, they quit drugs, and spend them time studying the Bible.
Many gang members have parents, aunts, cousins, and siblings who are active in Pentecostal churches. The social and class diﬀerences that exist between gang members and other institutions—the government, politics, universities, middle-class employment, for example—do not exist between the gangs and the Pentecostals in poor neighborhoods. And conversely, many pastors and active Pentecostal church leaders were once gang members themselves or have family members currently in the gang.
According to Johnson, the relationship between Pentecostal churches and the narco-gangs is characterized by mutual respect. The Pentecostals do not challenge the gang’s power in their neighborhoods. Nor do they condone the gang’s drug traﬃc, violence, and hedonism. They treat gang members as people worthy of redemption.
The gangs in turn command their members to treat the church members and pastors with respect and to acknowledge their authority in the community.
As long as the Pentecostals were known as a group who practiced what they preached, they would be protected from prison violence and allowed to occupy space in the prison.